News Just In – NHS Still Really Bad At Preventing Death From Breast Cancer

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This isn’t quite how The Guardian frames the story of course but the finding from this latest European study is that the National Health Service is pretty bad – quite fecal in fact – in treating breast cancer. Or at least in preventing death from it.

What The Guardian has done is that old trick of presenting us with the rate of change rather than the absolute numbers. Given that the NHS is, as ever, late to the game it is decreasing the number of people it kills with lackadaisical treatment faster than most other countries in Europe. But it’s still killing more of them so given the vastly worse starting point. This is a victory for the NHS? Or a condemnation of it?

UK breast cancer death rates falling fastest in ‘big six’ of Europe

Oooh, super. But where did we start from? And where have we got to?

Death rates from breast cancer are falling faster in Britain than in any other of the six most populous countries in Europe, research shows. The rate of death from the disease has fallen by 17.7% since 2010-2014 thanks to screening, earlier diagnosis and better treatment, a Europe-wide study [pdf] has found. International experts in cancer incidence estimate that the UK had an age standardised breast cancer mortality rate of 18.39 per 100,000 people in 2005-2009. However, that dropped to 16.19 in 2010-2014 – and is due to fall again to 13.33 this year, they conclude. It means that by this year the UK will have experienced the highest percentage fall – 17.7% – in its death rate among Europe’s six most populous countries since 2010-14. The equivalent reductions in other nations studied were Germany (12.5%), France (12.1%), Spain (11.3%) and Italy (9.7%), while Poland has seen a 6.1% rise.

Absolutely everything they say in the piece is about those relative rates of change. Not once – really, not once – do they give us the absolute numbers to compare across those 6 most populous countries. They only give us this:

If Britain does see its death rate fall to 13.33 per 100,000 of population this year, this will put it slightly ahead of the EU average, which will be 13.36.

See the switch and bait? The only absolute number is using an entirely different comparison. As to why, the actual paper itself makes it clear:

This is not evidence of the success of the NHS

The NHS started out vastly worse at not allowing people to die from breast cancer. It’s still vastly worse at not allowing people to die from breast cancer. The Guardian presents this as evidence in favour of the NHS. For, obviously, we mustn’t allow reality to cloud the national religion, must we?

Factchecking Pollyanna: An Investigation into the Accuracy of Polly Toynbee’s Journalism

It is actually true that the National Health Service is, among rich world countries, the health care system among the worst at preventing mortality amenable to treatment. To take that out of the jargon there that means that it’s really rather shit at actually providing health care whatever its equality and ease of access.

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